BELLEFONTE, Pa. - The first witness called in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial testified on Monday that the former Penn State assistant football coach treated him like "his girlfriend" when he was a young teenager, showering together and engaging in oral sex.
The graphic testimony by the 28-year-old man - one of eight alleged victims of Sandusky due to be prosecution witnesses - came after jurors heard opening statements from prosecutors and the defense as the closely watched trial got under way.
|An unidentified witness (L). testifies as former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky looks on in this courtroom sketch during the child sex abuse trial in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania June 11, 2012. Sandusky faces 52 counts of sexual abuse against 10 boys. If convicted he could be sentenced to more than 500 years in prison. Photo by Art Lien, Reuters.
The prosecution branded the 68-year-old Sandusky a "predatory pedophile" and said his young victims remained silent only out of fear and shame. Defense lawyer Joe Amendola told the seven women and five men of the jury that Sandusky was a naive man filled with love and affection for young people.
"Jerry Sandusky, in my opinion, loves kids so much he does things that none of us would ever think of doing," said Amendola, who added that Sandusky was not guilty of the charges.
Sandusky faces 52 counts of sexual abuse against 10 boys over 15 years. If convicted, the former Penn State defensive coordinator could be sentenced to more than 500 years in prison.
The opening witness called by prosecutors, a slender man with dark hair wearing a white shirt and dark tie, told jurors he met Sandusky when he was 13 years old, in 1996 or 1997.
He said his relationship with Sandusky evolved from the coach putting his hand on his leg, to showering together after workouts at Pennsylvania State University facilities, to oral sex, as well as being lavished with gifts and trips. He told jurors Sandusky had molested him dozens of times.
"When we were out in front of other people, like a golf outing, that's when he treated me like his son. When we were alone, he tried to treat me like his girlfriend," he said under cross-examination.
The witness, identified in court documents as Victim 4, said he put up with the alleged sexual contact because he got prestige at school from his Penn State connection along with gifts and attention. He also said he could not bear to tell anybody about what was happening.
"I didn't want to lose the nice things that were happening to me. I didn't want to lose somebody paying attention to me," said the man, who was living primarily with his grandmother in the small Pennsylvania town of Snowshoe when he met Sandusky.
Sandusky is accused of using the Second Mile, a charity he founded in 1977, to prey on needy young boys, including the witness. The charity said last month it was closing because contributions had dried up.
Prosecutors allege Sandusky had physical contact with the boys, known in court documents as Victims 1 to 10, that ranged from tickling and a "soap battle" in Penn State showers to oral and anal sex.
Under questioning from Amendola, the witness said Sandusky had never threatened him physically, never told him not to tell anyone about their relationship and never asked for anything in return for the gifts.
The only threat came, he said, when he traveled with Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, to the 1999 Alamo Bowl college football game in Dallas and stayed in their hotel room.
When they were alone in the hotel bathroom, Sandusky wanted the boy to perform oral sex on him, the witness said. When he hesitated, Sandusky said: "You don't want to go back to Snowshoe, do you?"
Sandusky's wife then walked into the hotel room, and Sandusky and the boy separated, he testified.
'My share of mistakes'
A handwritten letter allegedly sent by Sandusky to the witness also was placed into evidence on Monday.
"I know that I have made my share of mistakes," it read. "There has been love in my heart. My wish is that you care and have love in your heart."
In a flurry of motions, another defense lawyer, Karl Rominger, said he would likely call an expert witness to explain that a psychological problem suffered by Sandusky, known as histrionic personality disorder, led him to write "love letters" to his alleged victims even though he was not trying to lure them into sex.
Eight young men are due to testify in Centre County Court about how Sandusky befriended and sexually abused them as boys over a 15-year period, according to prosecutors. The men, now aged 18 to 28, are being identified publicly for the first time in court.
Reuters' policy is not to identify victims of sexual crimes.
The abuse charges shook the university and prompted the firing of revered football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier last November. The allegations brought an ignominious end to the career of Paterno, who won more major college football games than any other coach. He died of lung cancer in January.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Joseph McGettigan III called Sandusky a "predatory pedophile" and urged the jury to listen to his alleged victims in the case, now men, as though they were children.
Putting up pictures of eight of the 10 alleged victims on a courtroom screen, while occasionally jabbing a finger toward Sandusky, McGettigan told jurors that eight had remained silent until now out of humiliation, fear and shame.
As the prosecutor spoke, the white-haired Sandusky, wearing a gray suit, sat silently, hunched forward with his back to the packed courtroom, as ceiling fans whirled overhead. Sandusky closely followed the proceedings throughout the day and occasionally spoke with his lawyers.
Amendola indicated Sandusky could take the witness stand, telling jurors that the former coach would tell them about his youth and how taking showers with other people had been common for people of his generation growing up in Washington, Pennsylvania.
Amendola also hinted that the accusers could be out for money, saying that six of the eight identified accusers had taken the step of hiring civil attorneys.
One piece of evidence introduced was a contract for a 1999-2000 program signed between the witness and Sandusky, acting for the Second Mile charity. The agreement called for the boy to maintain his grades and train for sports in exchange for at least $1,000 for college expenses.
Marc McCann, who served as Second Mile's assistant vice president for programs, said he had not heard of the program. It also would be invalid since it allowed unsupervised contact with a minor, he said.
The trial has brought a flood of media to Bellefonte, a town of 6,200 people about 10 miles (16 km) northeast of State College, the location of Penn State's main campus.
(Additional reporting by Matt Morgan in Bellefonte and Mark Shade; Editing by Will Dunham)